Down on the nonpartisan ‘Animal Farm’

John Catron
Photo by Eric Melzer
A muddy John Catron (Ktron) in his production of “Animal Farm” at the Southern Theater.

Jon Ferguson calls it the “yeah” factor.

“When I tell people that I’m doing ‘Animal Farm,’ they go ‘yeah,’ and seem really excited about the idea,” Ferguson says.

The director hopes that factor helps bring audiences to the Southern Theater for the production of George Orwell’s classic fable on the nature of power. The show opened this week and runs through Nov. 9.

“The production is nonpartisan,” he says. “We want people to go and to be provoked. And we want people to think more about who they are voting for. They should take a more active role in investigating who their leaders are, and where they are being led.”

The idea of bringing the story to the stage also intrigued Ferguson, a native of England known for his innovative and challenging productions and collaborations with a number of area theaters.

In this case, Ferguson worked with John Catron (who is credited as one of the show’s co-producers as Ktron) to bring the show to the stage. Originally, Catron — who worked with the director for “On the White Whale” (an adaptation of “Moby Dick”) — developed his own adaptation. The two, however, had difficulty getting a yes or no answer from the Orwell estate and instead turned to an existing version crafted by Ian Woolridge.

Ferguson saw that version — his only previous exposure to Orwell’s piece on stage — in London, where the set design was a bit more in your face. “The whole stage was covered in mud and the theater gave plastic sheets to the first three rows of people because of all of the mud that was flying around,” he says.

For the Southern, they’ve gone for a simpler old-style wood surface, like an old barn. That type of subtlety also extends to the various animal characters.

Instead of fully realized costumes or masks, Ferguson — along with the actors and costume designer Lindsey Strange — worked to create characters themed around the animals. “For the actors, I cast them because they are talented, but also because they may have some of the qualities like those animals,” he says. “For a girl who is playing a duck, I think she is a bit like a duck.”

In the end, Ferguson thinks the show will give people a chance to think amid all of the election-season noise.

“Orwell called this a fairy story. I believe he wanted to bring people into this story. It’s a playful fantasy at first, but then it knocks you on the head with its brutality,” Ferguson says.

What: “Animal Farm”
Who: Jon Ferguson Theater and Ktron
Where: Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis
When: Through Nov. 16   
Cost: $22
Phone: 612-340-1725
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